Zawiah Mohamad Rasep is a second-year PhD student in English Literature at the National University of Singapore. Her research fields include environmental humanities and Southeast Asian literatures, particularly from the Malay Archipelago. Her doctoral research project explores the intersection between premodern Malay mythopoeic philosophy, culture, and the interplay of human mediation with the more-than-human world. E-mail: e0220017@u.nus.edu


Posthuman Animism and Contemporary Malay Anthropomorphic Literature

Abstract: Anthropomorphism is highly controversial within the field of ecocriticism and animal studies, with many critics denouncing it as inherently anthropocentric and rhetorically self-defeating. By using the language of humans (anthropos) to shape (morphos) nonhuman consciousness, we risk exemplifying the humanist fallacy of holding humans as the standard against which all other life is to be understood and measured. Yet, it is not hard to imagine anthropomorphic literature, especially in Southeast Asia, as evolving from a premodern animistic worldview where animals can and do communicate. Premodern beliefs in human-spirits interrelations and transspecies communication threaten the fundamentals of human exceptionalism by destabilizing the boundaries between humans and nonhumans. This mythopoeic philosophy is congruous with posthumanism’s move to subsume humans into a shared, fluid, and boundary-less space. Thus, analyzing nonhuman communication through an animistic lens can undermine the anthropocentric characteristics of anthropomorphic literature while contributing to the discourse surrounding posthuman animal studies. This paper argues a case for anthropomorphism, as a narrative device derived from biocentric traditions which can heighten the interconnectedness between humans and nonhumans. The paper mobilizes current theoretical debates in posthumanism and animal studies, supported by readings on animism, as a conceptual framework to study anthropomorphism in contemporary literature by Singapore’s Malay authors. The stories chosen in this paper include Fairoz Ahmad’s Interpreter of Winds (2019), Nazry Bahrawi’s Tujuh (2021), as well as Bovine (2017) and Rats (2017) by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed.
Keywords: posthumanism, animism, animal studies, ecocriticism, Singapore literature